Delivered by Stephen S.
Dear Comrades, International Guests, Friends --
I would like to welcome everyone to this 24th Central Convention of the YCL-LJC! Welcome to Toronto, a city with a proud working class and rebellious history. Welcome and thank you to everybody worked long and hard for this convention, a very special meeting!
A special welcome must be made, on behalf of this entire convention, to our international guests. To comrade Adam Tenney from the YCL USA, who has come from New York.
To comrade Miguel Madeira, from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, who
has traveled many miles, all the way from WFDY Headquarters in Budapest, and just after an international meeting in Vietnam. To the comrades who are not here, from our many sister organizations -- we take this moment to express our gratitude for your greetings!
Lets us thank these people for their solidarity!
Seventeen years ago, in a hall only blocks away from here, the YCL was liquidated. The liquidation was part of an attack on the Communist Party, and in turn, all progressives.
I would like begin this keynote address with a passage from the keynote speech of the 23rd YCL convention. This was May 1990:
“The Tory government and its Big Business patrons are carrying out a vicious attack against the people of Canada… unless we can avert an ecological disaster within two decades, there maybe nothing to win socialism for…
Clearly, the YCL’s estimation rings true. We are asking at this convention the same questions they asked seventeen years ago:
How do we fit into the fight back? What is our contribution?
We are part of that history. We are part of a history of mistakes and great achievements, a history of almost eighty-five years of proud struggle as youth for a socialist Canada.
Our task at this convention is to re-build a fighting YCL! Today, despite the strength of imperialism, new openings are appearing for social progress. We are part of that movement! Now is the time for communist youth to again organize!
Our meeting comes at a time of unprecedented dangers.
Dangers for our class, our country, our generation and all humanity. Dangers arising from growing militarism and war, economic plunder, and increasing environmental destruction.
What are the most urgent tasks today for youth and students in these conditions?
According to the draft convention documents, the most urgent task facing our league is to help mobilize and strengthen resistance. To make that resistance on the broadest possible basis. To forge together a united combative fight of youth and students. This struggle begins with the defeat of the ultra-right Harper Conservatives.
We think there are three main areas in which we can build unity and militancy amongst young people today: peace, education and jobs. It is on the question of struggle and unity in these three areas of work that I will focus today’s speech.
First – what are the obstacles to unity?
Some of the biggest obstacles to unity in of the youth in Canada are racism, sexism, homophobia and above all National Chauvinism.
What is National Chauvinism?
Canada is a country of many Nations. The Aboriginal peoples, including the many First Nations and the Metis Nations are small nations, as are the Acadians. Other nations are big: English Canada and Quebec. They are not equal. It would be incorrect to hold that the people of any nation are the enemy here. But it would also be a mistake – a fatal mistake – not to recognize that English speaking Canada is not just a large nation, but also a dominant and oppressor nation.
Let us not forget that the English-speaking police, soldiers, and government officials beat-up and sometimes murder Aboriginal peoples all across Canada. A UN study released in February again condemned Canada’s treatment of First Nations and Metis people. This injustice thunders for change.
We ask, how can all the people of Canada be free, if Aboriginal people’s are second-class citizens?
Also, comrades, regarding the nation of Quebec.
Few youth and student leaders in Canada know about the fights of the Quebec youth. Few youth in Canada understand why Quebecers consider themselves a nation. Fewer still would agree – but yes, Quebec is a nation.
Since we released these discussion documents, the ultra-right Harper government has claimed to recognize Quebec as a nation. But they have not conceded that Quebec has national rights. The law is clear: if Quebec were to separate, Canada would call in the tanks. Is that democracy?
Unity can not come about with out recognizing the fact the nations of Canada do not come to the table equally.
Nor can unity come about without recognizing that racism, sexism, homophobia, and abelism are wrong. This is everyone’s problem. It is the obligation of the group that has the advantages to step forward first and recognize the special issues experienced by these peoples and groups.
We can not have the type of unity needed for social progress without recognizing the inequality fostered historically and now caused by the capitalist system. Otherwise, we are forging our own chains.
The People united, Will Never Be Defeated!
As I mentioned, our convention documents say that there are three areas around which we can build youth unity – in the struggles for Peace, Jobs, and Education.
You will note that we also talk about the environment. We are leaving this question of expanding the three areas into four areas very open. Your opinions, the opinions of this convention, are necessary.
But I would like to make a few comments about new developments in these areas in light of the ultra-right Harper Conservative Budget and other recent developments since the convention documents were released.
First, the question of war and peace.
Since the convention documents were circulated, there have been some important developments in the fight for peace.
In early January, the US launched helicopter gunship attacks against southern Somalia. Again, oil profits not terrorism was the issue.
In February, Canadians voiced their opposition to these acts, and the Bush agenda, in Ottawa when the ship CONDOLEEZA RICE visited Canada. And Bush has been getting another rejection by the people of Latin America during his latest visit there right now, with massive demonstrations occurring everywhere he goes.
And just a few days ago, anti-war protests against Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan swept the country. We demand: Troops Out Now!
These protests were significant in many places because the more moderate and older “Ban the Bomb” movement joined with the more anti-imperialist side of the peace movement in united rallies. That is a very positive sign.
It is worth adding that the latest ultra-right Conservative budget grants $1.1-billion extra over two years for the military in Canada. Every penny is mis-directed.
What is our role in the Peace movement? How can local clubs work on building for peace? This convention needs to discuss these questions, and make decisions.
Second, Comrades – education.
The crisis of public education is also a major issue we must deal with at this meeting.
Since the convention documents were written, the mobilization of students for the Day of Action on February 7, organized by the CFS, has shown that students are angry with skyrocketing education costs which have almost doubled in the last three years.
New statistics released Tuesday of this week show that, at least in Ontario, government policy is strongly rejected by the people. The time is ripe for more strong and militant protesting and campaign work.
We should also talk about how corporate and military influence on research as well as recruitment on campus are stepping up. What openings does this create to link students and peace?
We also need much more discussion about how high schools and elementary schools are being shut down, and funding cut in most provinces.
Young workers also face a crisis.
Unemployment and underemployment continues to worsen as a result of the deindustrialization of the country. In Canada, wages for millions are legislated below the poverty line.
We want better work and better wages!
New dangers are posed the TILMA agreement between B.C. and Alberta, a trade agreement that has come to light since the documents were produced.
Living Wage Campaigns in B.C. and Ontario are positives signs, as is a recently launched campaign for the $10 minimum wage by the B.C. Federation of Labour and by several Labour Councils in Ontario, including here in Toronto, with the backing of the CLC.
More and more youth are saying, Super-size My Pay! -- $8 bucks sucks! The YCL must play an important role in these struggles.
A few words on the environment.
The exploitation of the working people is inextricably connected to the struggle for the environment. Global warming is no longer a question of debate; it is a scientifically ascertained fact threatening the very existence of human life on the planet earth, if action is not urgently taken against it.
Yet many of the imperialist countries, which are biggest culprits for global warming, refuse to recognize this fact and take any serious action, including Canada.
This is quite in contrast to socialist Cuba.
In Cuba, perma-farming, recycling and bike transit are all part of the socialist economy. World-renown Canadian scientist David Suzuki has praised Cuba’s environmental policies. In fact, since the convention documents were put out, Cuba has been declared by the World Wildlife Foundation as the only sustainable economy in the world.
I repeat: the only sustainable economy! Wow!
The struggle for the environment is an immediate crisis. As comrade Erica Smiley said of the YCL USA, our YCL sisters and brothers in the United States:
We must note that the environmental struggle is not just a fight for our future, but a fight for our present lives. Our fight isn’t to charitably protect our sensitive planet—humanity would surely die off before the planet “dies”—but to fight for human survival.
We need to include the environment in our discussions our convention, and talk seriously about how we, with limited resources, can contribute to this important democratic and class struggle.
Mother Earth is not asking for a handout—She’s giving us our fair warning!
Our struggle is not confined to the borders of Canada. In conclusion, I would like to say a few word about Socialism and International Solidarity.
In Canada and globally, we are fighting for a better world, for socialism. Some will try to discourage us. Since the counter revolutions in the Soviet Union and many other former socialist countries, many have said that communism is dead. Not true!
But in advocating socialism today, we can’t just repeat Marx. We can not pretend as if socialism in the last century was not a defining feature of world development. It was real. Socialism transformed and modernized backward societies. Socialism secured important economic and social rights. Socialism assisted countries breaking free of colonialism. Socialism contributed decisively to the victory over Nazism.
Just because it was there, Socialism put pressure on the ruling classes in the capitalist world. This pressure helped the workers and democratic movements win important concessions. Socialism was a counterweight to imperialism.
We must reject the historical revisionism that says otherwise. And yes comrades – this also means defending the peoples and states that, despite intense pressure from imperialism, aspire to build socialism in a time of such attacks.
Today, a tide of resistance is sweeping across Latin America. Progressive movements are coming to power in a number of countries. And Socialist countries like Cuba are proof of a real alternative to capitalism! Indeed this very convention is a sign of that reality!
Communism is anything but dead!
What you read in the capitalist newspaper about socialism is never presented fairly. We can’t forget this. We have to defeat the propaganda of the class enemy – first in our own minds, then in the minds of others. We can’t forget that the communist movement is actually growing. The 16th world festival of youth and students in Caracas, Venezuela, which brought together over 17,000 youth from over 120 different countries, is an example of evidence that youth around the world are becoming increasingly conscious and radicalized.
The YCL played a key role in organizing the festival organizing committees leading up to the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students. The result was a significant delegation from Canada which included a number of YCL members.
I believe the YCL has played an impressive role as an internationalist youth organization in its history, and over the last three and a half years. At this convention, we should talk about making that work bigger.
When our Czech comrades faced severe repression from the government of the Czech Republic, repression they still face today, the YCL took part. I personally joined my comrades in Vancouver and protested repeatedly outside Czech consulates and embassies, to the consuls’ great annoyance.
We have worked in various solidarity movements – joining protests for the people of Columbia, and for the FARC-EP, as well as Haiti, and Mexico.
And the YCL has worked on Cuba solidarity! -- like the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade and in the campaign to Free the 5 Cuban heroes unjustly imprisoned by U.S. Imperialism. Viva Cuba! Viva Che! Viva Fidel!
Currently we are seeking membership in the World Federation of Democratic Youth, an international mass organization, which we intend to support and build to the best of our ability.
By being in the YCL – you are part of a global struggle against imperialism and war and for peace, solidarity and socialism!
Before I come towards the end of my speech I must recognize the tremendous help provided to the League by our comrades in the Communist Party of Canada.
Could the guests from the Party please stand?
The Communist Party deserves a lot of recognition, credit, thanks and respect for its tremendous part in making this convention happen, and helping our young comrades in their work to rebuild the YCL.
Especially, we would like to thank Comrade Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party, who has worked with the Preparatory Committee on behalf of the Central Executive.
The YCL has a very special relationship with the party in that we are organizationally separate but politically and ideologically connected. We hope this positive relationship continues!
In conclusion, our convention has much work to do over the next three days.
We have four documents to discuss. We hope that the emphasis of the discussion is not on editing. No! No editing! We are not just here to be editors. We must use the documents as a starting point for discussion about the YCL itself, and the work of your local clubs.
For example – what do you think about the proposed dues structure?
This is our task: we must re-form a YCL that can help youth confront the assault of capitalism, and fight for socialism.
We must be united, and committed to action.
As the YCL USA says: YCL – Give ‘em hell!
There is an idea behind all this -- To combine political education and class struggle; to develop and build ourselves; and to build the League ideologically, politically and organizationally.
Our firm commitment is that only socialism, based on working class power can put people before profit and mark a real advance towards true democracy – the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. We are Marxist-Leninists.
On this point we should be blunt.
History shows that at times this is a slow process, like now. But at times the fight moves forward rapidly. The youth and student movement has a strong radical and dynamic voice. The radicals are a minority of youth voices today. But that could quickly change.
And we don’t know exactly what straw will break the camels back – but leadership will be needed then, as now. The current order is unsustainable.
Our immediate aim is to defeat Harper and to begin the reversal of the war mongering, reactionary policies put in place by his government and the recent Liberal governments before him. Our long term goal is the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist Canada!
History proves that this is not only possible, but inevitable. The capitalist system can not survive indefinitely especially as its crisis deepens and it increasingly fails to meet the needs of the world’s people.
Our goal is clear, and there is no time like now to join the struggle and organize!
The youth are the future, the future is socialism!